Contradictory English Idioms to Confuse You

English is a remarkably difficult language to learn if it isn’t your mother tongue. Let’s not even talk about all the grammar rules (and all the exceptions to all those grammar rules). Let’s even forget about idioms like the one above with questionable roots. What about idioms that can be contradicted with other idioms?

Interestingly enough, common sense isn’t terribly common and it’s even less common when people start using conventional idioms to explain their common sense. Let’s take a look at a couple pairs of examples.

1. Birds of a feather flock together.
2. Opposites attract.

The first saying would lead us to believe that people with similar interests and personality traits would likely befriend one another. The second saying would lead us to believe that people with opposing viewpoints may be more attractive to one another, possibly because they are better able to complement one another. Used together, we get a contradiction.

Based on what I learned during university, the first idiom is probably closer to reality. This is why there are clubs and groups where people can share their common interests. We tend to seek out people who are similar to us.

1. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
2. What you see is what you get.

The first idiom holds a very important lesson: that we should look beyond appearances and discover greater value with what we find within. The clumsy fellow in the corner who is very sloppily dressed could actually be a brilliant millionaire, just as the sharply-dressed fellow in the other corner could actually be broke.

On the flip side, the second saying reminds us that first impressions make a monumental impact. Oftentimes, our gut reaction to a person, object, or situation can be quite accurate. So, which idiom should we believe?

Language is a tricky, yet intriguing thing. I’m sure there are many other pairs of idioms that contradict one another. Can you think of another? Maybe I’ll have a prize for the person who comes up with the best example.